Sunday, June 22, 2014

Crescent's Thoughts On: Anita Sarkeesian's Women as Background Decoration or How Depicting Sex Workers in Video Game Worlds Where Sex Workers Are Common Place Is Sexist Because of.......... Male Arousal?

Okay, does Anita think that plaid shirts are the only Nonsexist clothes she can wear?
You know, I kind of hoped to review an anime today. Maybe Kaleido Star. It was going to be a nice review of a really good and optimistic series. Or maybe review a video game like Mega Man ZX Advent which I just recently got... But then sometime during the week Anita Sarkeesian decided that she needed to be relevant again and released the next part in her Tropes VS Women in Video Games series and of course that means that every single critic of hers needs to get their rebuttals out because this woman really needs to stop. Not for our sake, but her own. Not only are her arguments getting worse, but so is her grasp on the games she is criticizing. I thought it was bad when she said that "Toadette was the only female member of the Toads," but now she is spouting nonsense that even nongamers can realize is crap. So what has she done now? Well, let's find out together shall we.

Why bring this up if for 90% of the video you are talking about something completely different.
When I saw this topic on Ms. Sarkeesian's list of videos, I was confused as to what she was going to be talking about. The only thing that I could come up with is background sprites of women Gogo dancing in Beat'em'ups, you know background decoration. But what she launched headlong is far more baffling. Anita starts the video by talking about Ads for videos games in the 80s and 90s featuring attractive females next to arcade cabinets stating, "This advertising strategy of using women and representations of women as decorative elements to try and sell games to boys and men soon became the norm for the burgeoning industry. In ad after ad throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s we see women placed on display alongside arcade games, conflating the two and presenting them both as toys to be played with." This isn't much of a revelation as the old marketing saying goes "Sex Sells," but what puzzles me is that this isn't an issue exclusive to video games. There are countless products advertised with beautiful women next to the product as a goal to achieve, either to be with or be like the woman in question. I mean, if you think video games was bad at this then don't ever see an ad for deodorant.

After this she starts showing clips from racing games that also depict attractive women in close proximity with cars, of course being sexually suggestive with their poses. Much like the example with the ads, this montage of clips says nothing about the games themselves, since the games are depicting a representation of racing culture and as I'm sure most of the population knows that racing culture, and car culture in general, loves to have the latest models being draped by the latest models. Whether you think that practice is sexist or not is beside the point, if these games are depicting a particular real world culture, and that culture has a practice of attractive women next to fine cars, then for accuracy sake the game must also depict said practice. But what really gets me about this is that both the ads example and the racing games example are pretty much forgotten about for the rest of the video, and Anita dives headlong into a subject that seems to be less about video games and more about her view of Sex Workers, and how depicting sex workers in a game is sexist because Sex Work itself is sexist because making men aroused is........ wrong I guess.....

According to Anita, we can't have Strippers... even if we are in a Strip Club.
After describing what an NPC is, Anita then quickly coins the term "Non-Playable Sex Object" (her words not mine) to pretty much describe any depiction of any kind of female sex workers. However, Anita quickly shows her ignorance for game design when she says that these "Non-Playable Sex Objects can usually be found on the sidelines of role playing or open world style games, populating the many virtual strip clubs, red light districts or brothel locations that have become almost obligatory in many so-called “mature” titles." Well DUH! Of course depictions of Sex Workers are going to be populating strip clubs and red light districts, much like how depictions of rich people are going be populating mansions and the wealthy quarters. If your game will have you explore such areas (which all of the games she listed in her video do) then of course they have to be populated with characters you will commonly see there. She then goes on to say that "Such characters are programmed with crude looping sexualized behaviors or dialogue as a way of adding an extra layer of “seedy” flavoring to gaming universes." So they have looping behaviors and crude dialogue... MUCH LIKE EVERY SINGLE NPC IN SAID GAME!

And that is pretty much what this ENTIRE video boils down to. Ms. Sarkeesian makes a statement that makes it sound like these characters are being objectified in some way and then lying by omission by neglecting to state that ALL NPCs, including male characters, have the same or similar limitation, role in the game, or the same acts done upon them by the Player. The only difference is that these characters are female sex workers who's only purpose in the game, according to Anita, is to arouse the heterosexual male audience of the game. Okay, a little slice of reality Anita, you may not know this, and I haven't experience this first hand mind you, but a female sex worker's main occupational duty is to arouse heterosexual male (or a homosexual female or a bisexual of either gender, what ever that particular worker preferences), so in the real world sex workers dress sexy-like and act provocative to attract customers, that's just how it works. So, to depict them in a video game requires that depiction to also dress sexy-like and act provocative as well. Regardless of your views on sex work, the point remains that if the game needs to depict sex workers as NPCs for either narrative or world-building purpose, then the game has to portray a realistic depiction of sex workers, even if said game takes place in a fictional setting (like The Witcher and Dragon Age).

STOP! Don't buy from the Shopkeep! You're objectifying her!
THEN Anita starts spouting some REALLY dumb nonsense about NPCs. She states that "In both Sleeping Dogs and the Grand Theft Auto franchise, buying and using prostituted women for sex rewards the player with powerups, stat boosts and/or health regeneration." In other words here is a gameplay mechanic that ties the activities of your character to the gameplay. "Which means that these women fulfill basically the same function as the beverages the player can purchase from vending machines and convenience stores in these games." And here is the REALLY stupid part. "This is a textbook example of another component of objectification referred to as fungibility or interchangeability... since these women serve an identical or nearly identical “resource” function within the game space they are created to be interchangeable with any other female NPC of the same type. A fact reinforced when developers simply copy and paste the same character models into various locations throughout the environment." To make it clear just how stupid this is, let me use this counter example: Male shopkeepers are interchangeable with a vending machine, this is a textbook example of another component of objectification referred to as fungibility or interchangeability since these men serve an identical or nearly identical "resource" function within the game space they are created to be interchangeable with any other male NPC of the same type. A fact reinforced when developers simply copy and paste the same character model into various locations throughout the environment. If it is sexist and objectifying for a female sex worker to be replaceable with a vending machine, then it is sexist and objectifying for a male shopkeeper to be replaceable with that same vending machine.

However, that isn't the dumbest thing she said in the entire video. No the dumbest thing she said was that "Since these women are just objects, there’s no need or reason for players to have any emotional engagement with them. Meaningful relationships or interactions are not even possible." Emotional engagement, with an NPC. Emotional Freakin' Engagement, with a character who's only purpose in the game is to populate it. Okay, I'm not against games that can engage the player on an emotional level, I'm all for that. Hell, I will admit there are times where I was completely engage with a game's characters so much that I start to regard them more as real people, the Persona and Fire Emblem franchises are prime examples of that. And I will readily admit that I cry every time I play through Labrys's story mode in Persona 4 Arena, and if I could I would totally hug Labrys and tell her everything will be fine. I love emotional engagement in video games... But I CAN'T get emotionally engaged with NPC who has at most two lines of dialogue and will walk endlessly on the same loop day in and day out. NPCs are not design to be what emotionally engages you, the main characters, the PLAYABLE characters, the supporting cast, the characters who are important to the story, THOSE are the characters you get emotionally attached to. NPCs are just extras that wander around in the background to populate the world. Seriously, did you get emotionally attached to that random pedestrian walking around New York while watching The Avengers? No? Then you will not be emotionally attached to any random NPC in a video game for the same reason.

Seriously, if this story didn't make you cry, then you have no soul.
Beyond that, Anita's video is nothing more than a conflation between "the game allows you to" and "the game encourages you" and a series of examples that have readily available counter examples of "you can do that to men and other Non-sex worker females." The game allows you to have kill with sex workers, but you don't have to if you don't want to. The game gives you cash for killing sex workers, but it does so when you kill other NPCs as well. Anita also seems to have a problem with a Grand Theft Auto-like game not giving you an instant Game Over scenario when you kill sex workers, instead giving you the same kind of consequence that killing well anyone gives.

And lastly before I leave, I'll make this revelation I had when going through Anita's video and that is that this video on "Tropes vs Women in VIDEO GAMES" has absolutely nothing to do with video games. This entire video is more about Anita Sarkeesian's view on sex workers than anything about gaming. And it's not even a "feminist" view of sex workers as there are two opposing sides within the feminist movement about sex called sex positive feminism and sex negative feminism. Sex negative feminism is the one Anita seemingly ascribes to, where all depictions of female sexuality is regarded as a byproduct of male domination in the past and thus to be truly free of the oppressive "patriarchy," women must forgo any and all manners of sexual expression used to arouse men (although no word about sexual expression used to arouse women though), while sex positive feminism believe that sexual expression is apart of human nature and that the degree a woman expresses her sexuality is up to that woman to decide. As such Anita's comments about sex work that she shared throughout the video has garnered a lot of ire from such sex worker who believe Ms. Sarkeesian's belief about their occupation is regressive and damaging to women who choose that career path. And of course her characterization of male gamers is also wholly inaccurate as I doubt any of us harbors any kind of desire to objectify any woman, let alone sex workers, because of the depiction of sex workers in a sub section of the games we play. Ironically, it seems the only person who view these characters as "Non Playable Sex Objects" is the same person who coined the term. Of course, anyone who has been critically watching Anita's videos probably saw that one coming.

Next time, something enjoyable to talk about, until then

-Crescent, Clearly she didn't learn enough.

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